Elaine Phillips and the buck she bagged three months after her 80th birthday. Photo courtesy of Dick Phillips

Elaine Phillips and the buck she bagged three months after her 80th birthday. Photo courtesy of Dick Phillips

Nothing says happy 80th birthday like bagging a black bear four days after the big day and just three months later scoring a fat spike buck minutes before sunset—both with a bow and arrows.

“This has been my 80th year of surprises,” said longtime St. Anthony Park resident Elaine Phillips. That deer she killed near her cabin in Cross Lake, Minn., was probably the most exciting catch in her nearly 50 years of bow hunting with her husband, Dick, a retired agriculture professor at the University of Minnesota.

Elaine grew up in southern Minnesota watching her dad and brothers head up north each year to deer camp, but she didn’t take an interest in hunting until her husband gave her bow lessons as a gift on their first Christmas as husband and wife.

Those lessons with national archery champ Jim Ploen in Bloomington “kind of got me hooked on it,” Elaine said. Her first hunt was in the Boundary Waters with her husband in 1966.

The Phillipses spent many summers hunting and camping in Colorado with their three sons. Elaine tried deer hunting in New Zealand during Dick’s sabbatical, and bagged an impala ram in South Africa. She’s arrowed three bears in Canada, yet her biggest thrill, she said, was the deer she killed Nov. 12.

“It was only my third deer,” she said, and with the deer population down in Minnesota this hunting season, “I really didn’t have much hope seeing anything.” She was late getting into her stand that day and only had a little more than a half hour before sunset. “I thought, ‘This is kind of worthless,’ and 25 minutes later here comes a deer.

“I got myself aligned and my bow pulled back. I let go and heard a sound and thought my arrow had hit a log.”

When she got down to the ground, she couldn’t find her arrow but saw the deer’s tracks in the snow. It was dark then, and she decided to wait until morning to track the animal. When she and Dick went out the next day, “it was a real surprise” to find the buck, she said.

Elaine’s love of hunting isn’t so much about hunting, she said, but “just being outdoors and being still and listening.”

“It’s opened my eyes to so much in nature,” she said. “You don’t realize until you sit there straining your ears—one of the first times I hunted I heard this sound and I thought, ‘Oh, it must be a big bear.’ I looked, and it was a little mouse running under the leaves.”

Next year, she’s “tentatively” planning to return to the bear camp in Ontario where she got her birthday bear. For now, the Phillipses have a freezer full of bear (it’s delicious, she said, and tastes fairly close to beef) and venison.

What’s for dinner on Christmas Day? “Oh, we always have turkey,” she said.

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